What effect does escort fiction have on public opinion?

The Internet is a great outlet for free expression, up-to-the-second news headlines and a wealth of information about any topic about which you’ve ever wondered. However, there is one thing the Internet is not: reliable. Mainstream news agencies are a part of the establishment and every words they say invites more questions than provides answers. Independent sites are in such hurry and on such small budgets that they can’t afford fact-checking step. Can anybody be trusted at all?

Too many people fail to be skeptical of what they read on the Internet. They assume that because something appears on a reliable-looking site, what they read must be accurate. However, with more than 181 million blogs and 634 million websites (many operated by amateurs or writers with illicit motives), the likelihood that what you read is true decreases significantly.

As a mode of free expression, numerous sex workers and escorts have found outlets on the Internet through publishing virtual journals. Some use their journals (or blogs) as marketing tools to help them attract or retain clients, encourage the scheduling of encounters and develop a residual revenue stream through advertising. Usually, these types of blogs are associated with an escort’s work name, her website and/or her professional profiles or advertising. High-end escorts have determined that their clients want an opportunity to get to know them better, so that relationships and appreciations are built on more than just sex.

However, sex workers (including escorts, exotic dancers and porn stars) often create anonymous confessional blogs where they disclose intimate details related to their professions and industry. In these blogs, they often recount details of encounters, clients and impactful experiences, both good and bad. Their disclosure of details may be extensive enough that clients and others having contact with the writer may be able to identify themselves. Others are quite careful to avoid highly distinguishable stories.

While it’s doubtful that someone would create a false escort marketing blog, it’s possible that either of these two categories of virtual diaries can be written by someone masquerading as an escort or sex worker. Again, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

There are many legitimate blogs on the Internet that are/were written by genuine sex workers. One of the most successful examples might be England’s Belle De Jour. Belle De Jour, actually Dr. Brooke Magnanti, escorted for 14 months during (and around) 2003 while she was working on her doctorate degree. Her blog about her experiences won several accolades and inspired three books (The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl and The Sex Myth) and a popular television show. She achieved great financial success and notoriety through her online efforts. She blogged anonymously until she was outed in 2009.

Due to her tremendous accomplishments and recognition, many opportunistic bloggers attempted to replicate her success through publishing similar blogs, recounting their own tales of eroticism and political beliefs. However, none were as successful. But, they can’t be blamed for making an effort to grab at the brass ring. It’s pretty much what sex workers do: they take advantage of their God-given assets and capitalize on them the best they can in a market that covets them. Industry bloggers working in other professions do the same thing, in hopes of discovery by others. Although opportunistic, it’s the way of life in the world today.

Journalists discovered long ago that extreme headlines and exaggerated accounts sell more papers than “just the facts” news. The dawn of “yellow journalism” may have reared its head many years ago, but its impacts are still prevalent, especially online. The sex industry is a great target for bloggers who hope to get attention. Most industries that bloggers write about don’t have the instant attraction that writing about sex does. Blogs about sex and the escort industry have a mysterious veil of glamour, celebrity, drama, sleaze and smut to them that appeal to online readers’ curiosity and inner tramps. People want to know what it’s like to be in a world centered around sex and money. They wish to read sordid details and learn about forbidden lifestyles.

But, because very few people are actually part of the escort industry, it’s simple to fake a blog about it. Readers don’t have a grasp on what it’s like to be an escort, so they are easily duped into thinking that exaggerated or completely false depictions are real. They can’t gauge what is genuine and what is fiction. All a blogger has to do is read other blogs or look up basic media stereotypes about escorts. And, with a little imagination, they can create bits of fiction that are taken for granted as reality.

Several examples of faux escort blogs exist. Many of them are written by bloggers who are completely unfamiliar with the industry, relying on general social attitudes about escorting. They overuse stereotypes, victimize the escort and create graphically-detailed abuse experiences. One such fake blog was written by alleged porn actress “Shirley Shave.” The blog was actually the brainchild of aspiring writer Henry Baum and excerpts appeared in the anthology Best Sex Writing 2005. Baum later apologized to his readers for creating a fake personality whom people believed in. He indicated his intentions were not to harm, but the question remains about the extent of harm he may have done by inventing stereotypical incidents that readers attributed to a standard day-in-the-life of a porn actress.

A second example of a fictionalized escort blog comes from Thomas “Pat” Bohannan (aka “Alexa di Carlo”). He penned a blog about his experiences as a high-end escort in San Francisco and groomed novice escorts by encouraging them to have encounters with him. As “Alexa” in The Real Princess Diaries, he would give new escorts positive recommendations for a friend named “Matt” — which was actually himself. He tricked many women into having sex with him as a result of his fake blog. He used stolen pictures acquired from a well-known cam model’s site and did all of this from the security of his government computer job. As an extension to his ill-deeds, he also operated a teen sex education site called “Caitlain’s Corner,” which he used to engage in sexually-inappropriate conversations with minors and solicit them for partially-nude photos.

These types of misinformation about the escort industry does nothing to promote its image. It’s difficult for escorts to battle current stigmatization of their careers as it is, without having to fight false, negative examples.

Even with legitimate, real blogs, there is a temptation to squelch those that don’t demonstrate the ideal impressions. The sex worker movement would have good reason to hush writers who blog about escort drug abuse or alcoholism, low self-esteem, suicide attempts or thoughts, sex health problems (STIs, etc.), abuse, victimization, mental health problems and low pay. The movement would be benefitted to downplay the negative aspects of the escort industry. There are escorts who face moral battles each and every time they visit with clients. Some escorts are estranged from their families and friends, due to the wedge escorting puts between them and their loved ones. Many escorts do abuse drugs, and some have mental illnesses. But, what most members of the general public don’t realize is that there is a certain percentage of the non-escort public who have these same problems. Escorts are just people. They have the same problems as others, but these issues are often dramatized by the media.

However, the blogs that activists accuse of further damaging the reputations of escorts are the ones that are written by non-industry penners. People with no industry knowledge rely on bits and pieces they read or hear about in the media and invent stories they think people will read online.

Escorts and sex worker activists know the intense degree of stigma that is attached to the adult entertainment industry. The stigma is prevalent without having to battle falsehoods and misconceptions gained from fake blogs written to “shock and awe” readers. Lifting up personal freedoms, avoiding judgment and enhancing self worth is often quite a task, especially when society continues to point fingers and place shame upon anyone who works as an escort.

Real escorts and industry workers who write blogs are often more mindful of their careers and the impact their blogs have on the overall impression of their fellow colleagues. They know that their words may be easily manipulated by anti-prostitution activists and journalists. They are very sensitive to the industry stigma they face every day. Additionally, escorts who are currently in the business, must walk a careful line of discretion. They cannot post details in their blogs about encounters, clients or fellow escorts that could allow a reader to recognize him or herself. Being too outspoken or critical of others can seriously hurt your financial situation through turning off clients or hinder positive interactions with other escorts in your area.

Escort blogs written by authentic industry professionals can help create much-needed bonds. Escorting can be an alienating career, because providers have few people whom they can talk to about their concerns, fears and frustrations. Well-written blogs about genuine experiences can help escorts identify with one another, decreasing the feelings of being alone. Blogs help build a sense of community and kinship, in a world that is often the opposite. However, fake blogs do not contribute to the positive sense of togetherness. Escorts can typically identify a fake blogger and resent his or her attempts to fit into their world.

Fake blogs have tremendous impact on the public image of escorts. Often, these fake blogs have sensationalized accounts of abuse and victimization, to the point of gaining rubbernecking readers who can’t turn away. They develop their attitudes about escorts based on falsehoods, which only contributes to the media’s judgmental analysis, anti-prostitution activists’ stereotyping and right-wing claims of the industry being the ruin of today’s society.

The escort industry will forever continue to be stigmatized, unless people speak up with the truth. Fake blogs that supposedly share glimpses into the inner world of escorting don’t help to reveal the realities of what it means to be a high-end companion to some of the most educated and talented clients in the world.

Unfortunately, as some truth eventually comes to light that escorting is not such a fearsome and abusive career, this information will always be discounted by negative impressions funneled into society by the media, activists or fake bloggers.